Secrecy is Powerful

Secretive nations get a lot of power from conducting their
business in the dark. Their citizens are not allowed to publicly criticize
the laws or policies or the tactics of their government in order to insure
privacy. Guests are not allowed free access to all or any locations within
these countries but are conducted on official visits to only the sites their
hosts wish them to see.
Such countries can let rumors circulate about the weapons they
stockpile, what technologies they have mastered and about their military
capabilities in general. It is almost impossible to establish whether these
rumors are true or not, although we always must believe the worst of the rumors
could possibly be true.
It puts the rest of the world on an unsteady footing with regard
to nations that maintain high levels of secrecy. There are plenty of questions
and very few answers.
Does Iran have nuclear weapons? Do they have a program to
produce nuclear weapons?
How large is North Korea’s nuclear arsenal?
Is Russia planning to restore the boundaries of the former USSR,
or is Putin’s goal world domination?
What goes on in China that we are not supposed to know about or
see? Are they just hiding their “failures”, are they hiding things we would
consider human rights violations? Do they worry that the Chinese people will
learn too much about how other nations are governed, or are they hiding
military build-up? (China has not been thought to have imperialist leanings
until its recent activities in the South China Seas and current objectives in
space exploration and settlement.)Has China surpassed us in computer science
and internet innovation or are they still basically dependent on the advances
made by other less secretive nations?
Whatever is going on, these four nations alone, Iran, Russia,
North Korea and China keep us in a state of nervous speculation and
apprehension because we are left to imagine what they might be up to and our
imagination probably is far worse than the reality.
However, it is entirely possible, and we all believe this, that
these nations enjoy keeping us guessing about whether or not war is imminent.
It gives them a sense of power and, in fact, it gives them some actual power
among the world’s nations.
So why don’t we do the same thing – why don’t we do as some suggest
and become a more isolationist, secretive nation with its lips sealed (by
loyalty or coercion)? For one thing America could never keep a secret about
anything. Even if we wanted to throw a surprise birthday party for our
President (OK, highly unlikely right now because of the GOP) the information would squish
out of a million different sources. If you have enjoyed freedom for a couple of
centuries it is irrepressible. Perhaps if we had to keep a military secret we
might be able to, but I doubt it. There would be some free thinker (or traitor)
who would spill the beans because s/he felt the policy was wrong.
The key differences between these nations who are able to
inspire dread through secrecy and America (and other nations like America) is
that these are all nations where citizen lack freedom of speech and other basic
human rights. These are nations where government carefully controls everything.
Transparency is not a goal of any of these nations. They are secretive because
they cannot allow their citizens to experience the freedom people have on much
of our tiny planet these days. Each nation has its own reasons for “protecting”
its citizens from outside influences, but the overall effect is the same.
Only by clamping down on every kind of media and controlling
interactions with people from freer cultures can these nations maintain control
over their oppressed people. If a sort of ersatz power is conferred by this
very secrecy then so much the better. It can be exploited. When someone
confronts your carefully controlled tyranny and threatens to expose it or to
end it you need only raise a fist, stamp a foot, threaten a nuke, real or
imagined, and the world, which basically treasures peace, and which has no way
to evaluate your actual strength, backs off. As people who respect the human
rights of others we also grudgingly accept the rights of other nations to rule
themselves as they see fit.

Alas, we cannot get that power of secrecy that authoritarian
nations are awarded without losing the things we value most. Freedom is a
relative thing, so we know that we don’t possess perfect freedom, but what we
do have should more than make up for losing the terrifying power of the threat levels
that we imagine to be present whenever there is a nation that maintains a level
of obfuscation that we do not.
By Nancy Brisson